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Alamosa water cleared to drink

DENVER, Colorado ” Alamosa officials opened the faucet, poured themselves a glass of water and toasted the state health department’s declaration Friday that tap water was safe to drink after more than three weeks of restrictions because of salmonella contamination.

“It tastes different,” Alamosa City Clerk Judy Egbert told The Associated Press by telephone of the chlorine now in the previously untreated water.

The state’s declaration took effect at 2:30 p.m. Friday.

Nearly 390 salmonella cases related to the outbreak in Alamosa have been reported since the first instance surfaced on March 7. At least 107 cases have been confirmed, and 16 people required hospitalization.

Alamosa’s 8,500 residents were told to stop drinking tap water on March 19; health officials later confirmed the presence of salmonella.

Officials began flushing the 50-mile water system with strong concentrations of chlorine starting March 25.

In addition to salmonella, which is usually spread through food, lab tests also confirmed the presences of two parasites that are commonly found in water ” giardia and cryptosporidium.

Health officials said the disinfection of the water system was enough to kill all biological contamination. A residual amount of chlorine will be left in the water to prevent future contamination.

Officials aren’t sure how the contaminates got into the water, though a state inspection found several minor problems in the city’s three water tanks. A water tower that dates back to the 1920s on the south side of town was being removed from service Friday so that problems such as missing rivets could be corrected.

“There has not been found anywhere where we can say here’s the place where these contaminants entered the system,” said Steve Gunderson, director of Colorado’s water quality control division.

Residents were unable to use the water for anything other than flushing for several days as chlorine more than five times the level needed to keep a swimming pool clean was sent through the system. Residents have been able to use the water for drinking, as long as they boiled it first, since April 3.

Gunderson said they advised residents to boil water out of concerns with how the chlorine may have interacted with metal pipes and the possibility that arsenic trapped within the system would have been released. Recent tests showed the water was safe.

The city has a $16 million water treatment plant scheduled to come online in June. It was built because arsenic levels in city water exceeded Environmental Protection Agency standards.

“Most people are not going to start drinking the water,” said Alamosa resident Gary Wuckert, an apartment manager, describing the taste of the water as something out of a swamp. He said time would probably increase his confidence.

“Maybe it isn’t a matter of becoming confident but becoming complacent,” Wuckert said.

Nationwide, of the five salmonella contamination cases within municipal water systems since 1985, two involved cracked pipes or problems in the distribution system, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Two more were blamed on insufficient water treatment. The other was attributed to untreated ground water.

In Gideon, Mo., in 1993, bird feces were determined to be the probable cause after bird feathers were found floating in a water storage tank.

The particular strain that caused the Alamosa outbreak is one found in the feces of local deer, birds and other warm-blooded animals.

Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever and stomach pain. Victims typically recover on their own, though infants, the elderly and those with impaired immune systems may require treatment.


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